Several species of fleas attach to cats and dogs, including the human flea, dog flea and poultry sticktight flea, but the main culprit is the common flea. This same flea is on opossum and raccoons in your backyard and can be a threat for any cat or dog that goes outside.
Warmth and humidity help fleas thrive, but they can survive in cold climates too, primarily in cars, attics and similarly protected microclimates created by humans.
Adult fleas have three pairs of legs and are able to spring onto animals and transfer onto a host.
Like mosquitoes, the flea develops from egg to larva to pupa to adult and only adults bite their host. Both male and females fleas are bloodsuckers. Within 24 hours of mating, the female is laying eggs. Each female can lay 40 to 50 eggs a day! Most eggs drop off the host and become embedded in the environment, including soil, sofas, carpet and hardwood flooring. They can travel indoors on animals and humans and they hatch in two days to two weeks.
Larvae mature outdoors in cool, shady places or inside in undisturbed areas such as under your furniture. Temperature and humidity affect development, but generally larvae enter the pupa stage in three weeks. Inside their cocoons, pre-adult fleas can hibernate for one week to 350 days, until heat, moisture, vibrations or carbon dioxide from passing animals trigger their emergence. If newly emerged fleas can’t find a blood meal, most die within two weeks. Once feeding, adults can survive up to 100 days. Killing adult fleas doesn’t stop the cycle because immature fleas generally infest the environment. Therefore, veterinarians recommend year-round topical or oral parasite flea and tick preventives for cats and dogs.
Tick species undergo four life stages: egg, larvae, nymph and adult. Ticks usually mature outside and off their hosts in leaves, underground cover, shrubs, in forests and grassy meadows and along road and trail borders. They must have a blood meal to develop to the next stage. Due to this, the tick must have three hosts prior to the adult stage. The lone star tick like to feed on cats in every stage though. Ticks can live up to three years if they find the proper host.
Eggs can stay dormant as long as the temperature and humidity are right which can take several months. Usually, below 60 degrees Fahrenheit ticks will not search for a host. An immature tick usually falls off their host outside to thrive and mature then when the dog or cat, the host goes outside can become a potential host.
Tick sense moisture, animal breath, body heat and odors to locate their hosts. Once on board they insert a barbed feeding tube from their mouth parts and secrete a cement-like substance to stay attached. Tick saliva contains an anesthetizing agent so that the host will not feel anything at all.